Anglican Watch

Breaking News: Jeff Piatt threatens Episcopal clergy

Threatening Letter from Jeff Piatt

DARVO. It’s an acronym heard often in analyses of abusive relationships. It stands for “Deny and Reverse Victim and Offender.” And it indicates that the person pulling a DARVO is likely abusive.

And so it is with Jeff Piatt, who has retained legal counsel and sent a cease and desist letter to Episcopal priest Jill Williams, the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, and others. A copy of the letter is above, and it’s a perfect example of how a bully behaves when he is called to account. Pull a DARVO and claim that you were being bullied. As in calling Pastor Jill a “Sinister Minister.”

Debbie Piatt
Debbie Piatt

Of course, some of the reason behind the letter is undoubtedly Litigation 101 — define the issues in ways favorable to your client. But it is going to be tough to convince any finder of fact that the Piatts have been acting in good faith towards Williams and her parish:

  • The recent criminal citations, which Piatt acknowledged in an email to all the clergy of the diocese, were filed by the police department, not the parish.
  • Jeff’s email to the clergy of the diocese set forth several fabrications, including that Williams refused to meet with him.
  • Jeff’s bit about “let us in” is a fabrication, as it was not that long ago that Piatt was telling people that he and his wife would not return as long as Williams was there. Thus, his whole thing about being excluded appears to be nothing more than defamation per se, with a side of civil conspiracy thrown in, and a dash of attempted tortious interference with Williams’ contract of employment.

Jeff Piatt

Then we come to the dissidents’ refusal to turn over the church’s Facebook page. They may have control of the page, but they are not legally authorized to hold themselves forth as representing the church. Thus, we have the illegal use of the church’s intellectual property, including its name, in an apparent effort to interfere with its business operations. This is strikingly similar to the litigation in federal court over use of the Episcopal church’s intellectual property “marks,” by the dissidents in South Carolina.

Next, we come to the inane and utterly stupid letter itself, sent out by Piatt’s attorney, Martin R. Kafafian. As Kafafian well knows:

  • Claims that Williams and the parish and engaged in a campaign of harassment are pretty rich — laughably so — in light of the documented conduct of Kafafian’s clients towards Williams and the parish. In fact, speaking of defamation per se, perhaps Kafafian will want to have a discussion with Debbie Piatt about her “Sinister Minister” sign.
  • Reports of potentially illegal banking activity are privileged and thus cannot be defamatory.
  • As privileged communication, Kafafian is neither entitled to documents about possible illegal banking activity by the Piatts, nor is anyone likely to hand such documents to him simply because he demands them. Or, in the words from The Devil Wears Prada, “Did you fall down and smack your little head on the pavement?”
  • As to documents from this publication, like any good discernment blog we take multiple steps to protect our sources, and New Jersey has one of the best reporter shields in the country.
  • Truth is a near-absolute defense to claims of defamation, and Kafafian is on thin ice when he falsely claims his clients are being defamed and harassed. If he is not careful, he will get his clients sued for defamation. Bullying priests really is not cool.

Clueless attorney conduct

  • As to “theft,” the removal of church financial records remains problematic.
  • The removal of church business records raises the question. “Why?,” which in turn raises questions of motive and intent. Perhaps the article on Abrahamson’s checks to herself is illustrative.
  • We have the matter of Beth Abrahamson’s purported “reimbursements” to members of Piatt’s family, using church funds. If this isn’t “a questionable business practice,” it’s hard to know what is. But then, as we have reported numerous times, if Piatt et al have evidence of any advances they made to the church, we will gladly publish that information.
An alleged reimbursement check, just shy of the amount requiring IRS reporting
An alleged reimbursement check to Doug Piatt, just shy of the amount requiring IRS reporting


The IRS has received complaints of potential criminal conduct by Jeff Piatt and Beth Abrahamson
The IRS has received complaints of potential criminal conduct by Jeff Piatt and Beth Abrahamson

Meanwhile, Kafafian is on a slippery slope. Not only does he not appear to handle torts, but his work as an assistant public defender is not particularly germane to what increasingly appears to be both a white collar criminal case and a tort case. Nor do we get the sense that Kafafian has any in-depth understanding of his clients’ antics over the past months; he runs the risk of painting himself into some ethical corners, and damned quick.

The icing on the cake though, is the stupidity of threatening a priest and parish that have been remarkably patient in the face of bad behavior by Jeff Piatt and others. Even today, when church attendance is no longer normative, and many hold faith communities in low regard, threatening a priest and a church with litigation will do nothing to improve the Piatts’ reputation, either personally or professionally. And Montvale Landscaping isn’t coming out of this looking too good either.

If there’s one thing guaranteed to make a bad situation worse, it’s an ill-informed attorney beating his chest, while representing a client with a questionable track record of veracity. A far better approach would be to send the matter to alternative dispute resolution before it blows up in the Piatt’s faces.

But then, no one hs ever accused Jeff or Debbie Piatt of common sense.

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